James Shelby Guss recalled as educator, leader

Posted on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 10:01 am

James Shelby Guss of Milford, a retired educator who had a leading role in Caroline civic life and was the first African-American to serve on the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) board of directors, died April 23, 2012, at the age of 87.

His name is among 13 that are engraved on a marker on the courthouse lawn that recognizes African-Americans for their contributions and achievements in Caroline.

James Shelby Guss

Mr. Guss was elected to the Virginia Electric Cooperative (VEC) board of directors in 1972. He became a member of the REC board of directors in 1980 upon the consolidation of VEC and Northern Piedmont Electric Cooperative. He served as the first African-American chairman of the REC from 1982-85 and retired from the board in 1998. He was the recipient of the “Unsung Award” presented by the State Electric Cooperative Association.

Mr. Guss was a teacher at Union High School. He was appointed principal of Union Elementary School in 1959, a position he held until the public schools were consolidated in the late 1960s.

Mr. Guss was president of the Virginia Teacher’s Association (VTA), an organization of African-American teachers, and he was instrumental in its merger with the larger Virginia Education Association (VEA) in the late 1960s. He served on the VEA board of directors for two years after the merger to help smooth the transition, and he also was employed on the VEA staff. Mr. Guss served as director of the VEA UniServ Program, which he helped form, and was named director of instruction for the VEA in 1970. He retired in 1982 after 12 years.

He was praised in an article in the VEA’s monthly journal when he retired. “When the history of integration is written in Virginia, Shelby’s name should be inscribed close to the top of those who have made significant accomplishments because Shelby has worked to bring together races in this state like no other man has,” David Johnson, VEA executive director in 1982, said in the journal article.

Mr. Guss was appointed by Gov. Mills Godwin and the General Assembly to the Virginia State College board of visitors and was elected vice-rector.

He served as chairman of the Caroline Democratic Committee, Past Master of Welcome Lodge 125 AFAM Masons, president of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, and was a member of the Eastern Star and the NAACP. He also served as a consultant on desegregation for the U. S. Department of Labor.

Mr. Guss was a member, a Sunday school teacher, and an usher at Bethlehem Baptist Church.  He later moved his membership to First New Hope Baptist Church, where he was ordained as a deacon.  He also attended St. John Baptist Church and, until his health failed him, attended St. James Baptist Church.

Mr. Guss graduated from high school in 1940 and entered Virginia Union University (VUU) that same year. He left school to help support his family, and he worked on the railroad from Fredericksburg to Dahlgren and at American Viscoe, the Sylvania lant in Fredericksburg.

Mr. Guss was drafted into the Army Air Corps in 1943, and he was awarded the Bronze Star for service in the South Pacific.

After his military duty, he returned to VUU and earned a bachelor’s degree; he later earned a master’s degree from George Washington University.

The son of the late Rev. E. L. R. and Clinice Hart Guss, he was the widower of Lavinia Anderson. He was preceeded in death by his older sister, Rosa Evelyn Guss Brown, his younger sisters, Carmen Guss Williams, Anita Guss Chance, and one nephew, Wilbur Johnson Chance Jr.

He will be cherished and missed by his sister, Norma Guss Bell; nieces, Angela Chance Lewis and Wanda McDowell Williams (James); nephew, Daniel Dwight Williams (Anita); sisters-in-law, Mary Anderson, Hallie Marie Roane (Russell), Celestine Anderson, Anniebelle Holman (Oscar), Bernice Brown; brother-in-law, John Anderson (Lena); devoted friends, John and Shirley Latney; caregivers, William Arrington and Ricky Reid; and many other relatives and friends.

A Christian wake was held at St. James Baptist Church on April 27, and a celebration of his life was held at the church on April 28 with the Rev. Dr. Charles F. Baugham delivering the eulogy. Interment followed at the Guss Family Memorial Cemetery in Woodford.

The family requested memorial donations be made to the National Kidney Foundation, 30 East 33rd St., New York, N.Y., 10016, or the American Heart Association, 4217 Park Place Ct., Glen Allen, Va., 23060.

Funeral arrangements were by C.W. Edwards Funeral Home, Bowling Green.

Online condolences may be submitted to the family at www.cwedwardsfuneralhome.com.

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